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Motorola donates $5m for 'smart' products lab

A society in which products truly "think and link" came one step closer to reality as MIT and Motorola announced a $5 million grant to establish the Motorola DigitalDNA Laboratory at MIT's Media Laboratory.

"Smart" products, which anticipate and meet the needs of their users, are proliferating at breakneck speed but cannot yet communicate with each other. The Motorola DigitalDNA Laboratory will focus on actually linking these smart products, such as set-top TV boxes, automobiles, household appliances, personal digital assistants and wireless communications systems.

"Motorola, the world's leading organization in embedded technologies, is joining forces with MIT to create solutions once thought impossible," said Dr. Hector de J. Ruiz, president of Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector (SPS). "Through our combined efforts, the impact will be swift and far-reaching."

The grant combines major business and education resources for the purpose of developing leading edge embedded systems, software, architecture and applications.

"The Motorola DigitalDNA Laboratory is an excellent extension of our Things That Think research consortium," said Nicholas Negroponte, director and co-founder of the Media Lab. "Through this new partnership, we'll continue to create technologies that help make everyday life easier. The current 'cacophony' of independent gadgets and appliances will evolve into a seamless society of intelligent mechanisms. For example, phones won't ring. They'll behave like well-trained English butlers, knowing when -- and when not -- to interrupt you, with the full understanding of who's calling and maybe even why."

The Motorola DigitalDNA Laboratory will be housed in a 5,000-square-foot facility located in a new building to be connected to the existing MIT Media Lab. The building is scheduled for occupancy in early 2003. In the meantime, the lab will operate from newly renovated space in the Wiesner Building, which houses the Media Lab.

The new laboratory heightens Motorola's involvement with MIT, where the company has been a major Media Lab sponsor since 1994. The partnership also increases opportunities for researchers at both organizations to actively collaborate on developing new, practical applications for embedded systems technology. MIT faculty, researchers and students will initiate projects, publish articles and disseminate findings under the standard intellectual property terms that govern the Media Lab's interaction with sponsors.

Since opening its doors in 1985, the Media Lab has helped pioneer a vision of a digital society. The lab is currently exploring such areas as electronic paper, "intelligent" software agents for the Internet, "smart" clothing that can recognize and respond to the wearer's needs and state of mind, and new "toys to think with." The Media Lab operates on an annual budget of $30 million. More than 90 percent of that funding comes from approximately 170 corporate sponsors and the balance from a number of government agencies and individuals.

As the world's number one producer of embedded processors, Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector offers DigitalDNA solutions which enable its customers to create new business opportunities in the consumer, networking and computing, transportation and wireless communications markets. Motorola's worldwide semiconductor sales were $7.3 billion in 1998. The company, a global leader in providing integrated communications solutions and embedded electronic solutions, posted 1998 sales of $29.4 billion.

A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 23).

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